Remember Megarace? That was the last futuristic arcade racer I actually sat down and played. After many years of neglect and missed opportunities, I finally got my hands on another game of its kin: Sony and Studio Liverpool’s Wipeout Pulse for the PlayStation Portable. Obviously, the series has been around for awhile since there have been seven installments prior to Wipeout Pulse. However, since I am a relative virgin to the Wipeout series, my views on the latest iteration should be as genuine as they come. What did I like, love or hate about Wipeout Pulse? It’s all here for you, folks.
Upon boot up, the high level of polish instilled into the game was evident. The menus were clean, well laid out and not a single option or mode available was left unexplained. A sampling of the game’s techno beats graced the menu screen and since I am a fan of this genre of music — I was immediately affixed to it. Fortunately, the copious amounts of care did not stop at the menu screens. It wasn’t long before realized how feature complete and well crafted Wipeout Pulse was.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me elaborate on the gameplay details. Wipeout Pulse is a futuristic arcade racer where high speed hovercrafts race on ridiculous tracks littered with weapon power ups and speed boost pads. These tracks aren’t ordinary circuits though. They feature some of the most exhilarating twists, turns and loops conceived; the track designs make the game what it is. To accompany the speed boost pads, weapons can be picked up and deployed at your discretion – think Mario Kart, but futuristic. Weapons ranged from rockets to the surprisingly effective cannon burst shots. The weapons offered more than just offensive capabilities, though. They could also be used to restore vital hit points which you may have lost during the race. I’m quite fond of this mechanic.
Similar to about any other racing game out there, Pulse featured the standard trial, speed laps, single races, head to head and tournament gametypes. Luckily, Pulse offered a couple of fun differentiators as well. I spoke of high speed, but I should have clarified it a bit. While at first I thought the game was already at “high speed”, Pulse actually has even faster speed grades which increased the gameplay speed from exhilarating to near impossible to control. With that in mind, there was no better way to demonstrate the speed differences than with the “Zone” mode. This mode tested both track knowledge and reflexes with gradual increases in speed while I tried desperately to keep my ship under control – a ton of fun. The second mode of interest came in the form of the”Eliminator” mode where the track became a battlefield filled with overpowered weapons and two mode exclusive weapons: the Shuriken and the Repulsor. (The latter being my favourite.)
The single player component of Pulse featured the Super Mario Galaxy progression approach where you can do anything you want in whatever order you want. The game’s many events were split into hexagonal icons. Points were rewarded for each event’s completion which were then used to unlock additional hexagonal icons. (ie: stars unlocking galaxies) It’s a great way to carve through the single player campaign without having to repeat undesirable events. As for rewards? All the game’s vehicles are available from the get go, so rewards for progress were merely new skins and additional tracks.
The deal breaker for all racing games lies within the controls; Pulse delivers the goods. If you are like me and have the tendency to just hold the acceleration button and barrel down a given track, then Pulse is the game for you. The airbrake system allows you to hold the L or R triggers and take on impossible turns and corners without lifting your thumb off the acceleration button. In conjunction with excellent controls, a superb camera insured that even with the loops, twists and other gravity defying shenanigans, I was always in control. The camera was always positioned well and I never felt disoriented. Well, in third person view anyway; first person view was dizzying for me.
Now that I’ve covered the basics, let’s get into what makes Wipeout Pulse feel like fully realized console game crammed into a portable form factor. First, there’s the multiplayer with both local (including game sharing) and infrastructure support. Unfortunately, only two modes are available in the multiplayer: tournament and single race. I would have liked to have seen the Eliminator mode in there as well. Perhaps it will be available through downloadable content? That’s right, Wipeout Pulse has DLC. In fact, European owners are able to download the first of four content packs from the PlayStation Store right now.
If you are not one to spend €4.99 ($7.23 CAD) for a couple of tracks and a new ship, there’s still free content and options available to spice up the game. Not only could you import your own music and customize your own race grid; you can also create and download new skins for the ships. I’m not talking about lame stickers or simple paint jobs though. There’s a pretty flexible online skin creator found on the Wipeout homepage. I wish I was patient or artistic enough to create something neat. You can also find the leaderboards on that site.
In addition to the major features mentioned, the subtle touches, like the random stat ticker on the bottom of the menu screen, in-game screenshot capture function and the persistent PSN account tie in, elevate Pulse above most PSP and PS3 titles. Pulse uses the platform’s abilities to its fullest and then some.
I could sum up Pulse’s overall quality with its visuals. It’s sleek, smooth and not over complicated – just like the rest of the game. The excellent use of color kept Pulse from being too dull or too chaotic. The distinct burst of energy pouring from the back of the vehicles contrasted well against the tracks so it was near impossible to lose yourself or your opponents. The most eye catching and unique vistas were exclusive to the Zone mode. Zone featured dual toned tracks reminiscent of some virtual reality experience like Tron. Other visual tricks and effects were used to decorate the game with track specific rain effects, translucent roads and give Pulse its sense of speed. They were used very well and never interfered the action.
I was thoroughly impressed with Wipeout Pulse. It may be a derivative game for some, but if you are a stranger to the series and its style of play: please treat yourself to Wipeout Pulse. With its responsive controls, stylish presentation and bite sized play; Wipeout Pulse is easily one of the best games you could pick up for the PlayStation Portable platform.
For more info check out the official Wipeout Pulse website.